The Deutsche Mark and its Legacy

Deutschmark coin, close-up, elevated view
The D Mark has a big legacy. Tom Hoenig@gettyimages.de

Since the Euro crisis occurred, there has been a lot of talk about the common European currency, its pros and cons, and the European Union in general. The euro was introduced in 2002 to standardize the money transactions and to push the European Integration, but from then, many Germans (and, of course, citizens of other members of the EU) still could not let go of their old, beloved currency.

Especially for Germans, it was rather easy to convert the value of their Deutsche Marks into Euros because they were just about half the value.

That made the transmission rather easy for them, but it also made it harder to let the Mark disappear from their minds.

To this day, billions of Deutsche Mark bills and coins are still circulating or just lying somewhere in safes, under mattresses, or in collecting albums. The relationship of the Germans towards their Deutsche Mark has always been something special.

The History of The Deutsche Mark

This relationship has begun just after the Second World War, as the Reichsmark was no longer in use because of the high inflation and the lack of economic coverage. Therefore, people in post-war Germany did just help themselves by reintroducing a very old and basic way of paying: They practiced barter. Sometimes they bartered food, sometimes resources, but many times they used cigarettes as a "currency". Those have been very rare after the war, and therefore, a good thing to swap for other things.

In 1947, one single cigarette had the value of about 10 Reichsmark, which equals a purchasing power of about 32 euros today. That is why the expression "Zigarettenwährung" has become colloquial, even if other goods are traded on the "black market".

With the so-called "Währungsreform" (currency reform) in 1948, the Deutsche Mark was officially introduced in the three western "Besatzungszonen", the allied occupied zones of Germany to prepare the country for a new currency and economic system, and also to stop the flourishing black market.

This lead to inflation in the Soviet-occupied zone in East-Germany and to the first tension between the occupants. It forced the Soviets to introduce its own eastern version of the mark in its zone. During the Wirtschaftswunder in the 1960s, the Deutsche Mark became more and more successful, and in the following years, it became a hard currency with international standing. Even in other countries, it was adopted as legal tender during hard times, such as in parts of the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is – more or less – still used today. It was linked to the Deutsche Mark and is now linked to the euro, but is called the Convertible Mark, and the bills and coins have a different look.

The Deutsche Mark Today

The Deutsche Mark has overcome many hard times and has always seemed to represent the values of Germany, such as stability and prosperity. That is one of many reasons why people still mourn the days of the Mark, especially during the financial crisis. However, that does not seem to be the reason why so many Marks are still circulation, according to the Deutsche Bundesbank. Not only has a large amount of the money been transferred abroad (mainly to the former Yugoslavia), but also, it is sometimes the way in which many Germans saved their money over the years.

People often mistrusted the banks, especially the older generation, and just hid cash somewhere in the house. That's why many cases are documented where large amounts of Deutsche Marks are discovered in houses or flats after the occupants died.

After all, in most of the cases, the money might have just been forgotten—not only in hiding places but also in pants, jackets, or old wallets. Also, much of the money that is still "circulating" is just waiting in collectors' albums to be found. Over the years, the Bundesbank has always published new specially-made coins to collect, most of them with a nominal value of 5 or 10 Marks. The good thing is, though, that one can still change Deutsche Marks into euros at the Bundesbank in the exchange rate of 2002. You can also return bills to the bank and get them replaced if they are (partially) damaged.

In case you find an album full of a D-Mark collector's coins, send them to the Bundesbank and get them exchanged. Some of them can be very precious today. Also, if they are not, with the increasing silver prices, it might be a better idea to get them melted down.